This morning, we got up and took the train through the countryside to Venice. It looked about the same as the area around Milan until all of the sudden fields were replaced with a beautiful lagoon. Venice is made up of 120 small islands with waterways separating them and bridges connecting them. The lagoon also completely separates Venice from the mainland, and before 1849 there were no bridges connecting the two, and you could only go between them using a boat. The Austrians were in control of Venice in 1849 and they were the ones who decided to first build a bridge for trains. In 1930 there was another bridge added for cars and buses. Even though the bridges made it much easier to get to the mainland, if there is a problem on the bridges like an accident or bad weather, the people of Venice become completely isolated. This can be a problem because as Venice has a limited amount of room, they don’t have many grocery stores or hospitals. If you are a resident of Venice, you won’t be using a car to get around the city. Many Venetians walk or use the Vaporetto, which is like a public bus, except it’s a boat and it’s much slower. There was so much foot traffic that some homeowners had to give up a small section of their home so a tunnel could be built for pedestrians. The Vaporetto was invented in the late 1800s before that, rich families would have their own gondolas and gondoliers, and the poor would walk. Of course, there are still gondolas today, but they are more of a unique experience (I loved the gondola ride we went on) than an effective mode of transportation due to the price.
In the past, most of Venice’s inhabitants were merchants, even the aristocrats which was very uncommon, because water was the most effective way to transport goods. Venetians were also some of the best at building boats, probably because they had to be or they couldn’t get very far. During the Middle Ages Venice became the capital of international entertainment. The rich would come from all over to visit the more than 200 casinos and to participate in the Venetian Carnival before lent. People would to lots of crazy things while partying in Venice, so to protect their identities and reputations they would wear masks. Eventually, the masks became fashionable so even more people started wearing them, and now walking around the city you will see plenty of masks in store windows. Nowadays, tourism is the biggest industry in Venice. Its beauty and unique geography makes it a place people from all over the world come to visit, and almost everyone wants a souvenir.
While having a city built on water may be beautiful, it definitely makes building the city a lot more difficult. The foundations for buildings had to be made off petrified soil, which was compressed to make it stronger, along with wooden pilings, then a layer of stone. Most of the buildings were made of brick because it is fairly light and flexible, because over time the surface of the islands can shift a bit, and you also don’t want the buildings to be too heavy. Even though all of this was done, you can still tell that the streets are uneven as you walk on them due to settling and the movement of the land. Boats driving through the canals have to follow a pretty strict speed limit, because if they go too fast the waves can actually disturb the foundations of buildings.
The city of Venice can’t expand like other cities because it doesn’t have the land available. Some buildings that have been built overlap others due to the lack of space. The lack of space also meant that, for the most part, people didn’t have gardens. We saw a few small courtyards with gardens as we walked through the city, but many of these were shared by the richer families whose houses surrounded them. Being separated from the mainland also has affected the ability to get water for the people of Venice until they were able to build pipes to bring in water, which was fairly recently. Before that, Venetians used wells, which can still be seen all over the city, to collect rainwater in the cistern underneath so that people could come and draw it up with buckets. However, if there was too long of a period without rain, people would have to travel to the mainland to get water. Despite all of the difficulties of living in Venice, it was an amazingly beautiful city and I hope I can visit there again.